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THEATER | THEATER NOTES

Making a Bigger Noise

May 26, 1996|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

The race is on to see which of L.A.'s many sub-100-seat theater companies will be the first (since 1985) to move up the scale for an entire season at the mid-sized level. This week's hot contender is A Noise Within, Glendale's classical repertory company, which has announced plans to grow from 99 to 144 seats next season.

With an additional three rows at the back of the house, and a season opening with "Twelfth Night" on Sept. 25, A Noise Within looks likely to beat by several months the expansion efforts of East West Players and Actors Alley. However, A Noise Within and Actors' Equity haven't determined what contract the group will use, so it's not a done deal. Because the group does rotating repertory, the search is on for an appropriate per-performance contract instead of one that requires weekly salaries.

A Noise Within has taken shows on the road with an Equity contract for a couple of seasons, and this effort will grow next season from two shows to three. One of those road tours will bring the company home Dec. 10-15, for "A Christmas Carol" at the Alex Theatre, just down the street from A Noise Within's headquarters. Before the Alex run, "Carol" will travel to Lancaster Center for the Performing Arts Dec. 5-7, and a third venue is expected to host the production Dec. 20-22. Adapted and directed by Sabin Epstein, "Carol" will be the biggest production ever for A Noise Within, with a $180,000 budget.

This year's growth is the first phase of a plan designed to culminate in a 450-seat theater within the same home base by the end of 1999--underwritten, in part, with a $2.5-million grant from Glendale Redevelopment Agency. Artistic co-director Art Manke said this year's interim step is important, because "we can't go overnight from 99 seats to 450."

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BIRTH IN VENICE: Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble has a new home. It's only two doors down from the old one, but it will have twice as many seats.

The group--one of L.A.'s most respected sub-100-seat theater companies--has maintained a 45-seat space on Venice Boulevard in Venice for 10 years, but it wasn't considered a permanent mainstage. Many of the company's mainstage productions journeyed to Santa Monica or a site just outside Culver City. Last year the group resumed using the Venice site for mainstage productions (including the current "Playboy of the Western World") but continued looking for more spacious and permanent digs.

Last December, artistic director Marilyn Fox noticed that the shelves at a corner grocery store just west of the Venice Boulevard site were becoming empty. She soon learned the grocers were moving out. PRTE is now moving in.

It's a 2,800-square-foot triangular space that will seat 90 in a flexible configuration, befitting the usual PRTE style of staging plays in and around the audience. The group will retain its current space, which is rented primarily with company dues, so extra funding will be necessary to pay the $2,500-a-month rent on the new space and convert it into a theater. Fox's goal is around $100,000. She hopes to open the theater with a production by mid-August.

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NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: Speaking of Fox's group, it used to be the Pacific Theatre Ensemble. In 1993, this columnist asked company officials why they were changing the name to the more long-winded Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble. It was because the group had recently moved its mainstage to the Culver City neighborhood and wanted to establish its permanent residency there, came the reply.

But now that the group is ensconced in Venice, not Culver City, the real reason for the name change emerges: An attorney representing Pacific Theatres, the movie theater chain, pointed out the similarity between the two names and requested a change, say the new company officials. This version was confirmed by Pacific Theatres attorney Ira Levin. After a prominent newspaper article about the stage company appeared, he said, the movie chain started getting calls from customers, employees and even the attorney's mother, asking when the firm had entered the live theater business. "There was confusion," Levin said.

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LONG BEACH, THE SEQUEL: Actors' Equity has granted the request of Theater League producer Mark Edelman (Theater Notes, April 28) to use the same Equity contract at Long Beach's Terrace Theater next year that he now uses for musicals at Thousand Oaks' Probst Center and Glendale's Alex Theatre.

This will pave the way for Edelman to bring next season's productions of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Camelot" to Long Beach, where he'll attempt to partially fill the gap caused by the recent collapse of Long Beach Civic Light Opera.

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